Advancing Evaluation: Practices in Philanthropy

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Resource Details
Publication Date: 
May 2012
Jane Wales; Luis A. Ubinas; Matt Bannick and Eric Hallstein; Judith Rodin and Nancy MacPherson; Paul Brest; James E. Canales and Kevin Rafter
Number of Pages: 

This piece sheds light on the philanthropic sector’s efforts to improve measurement and evaluation (M&E), specifically within the context of foundations involved in social change work. The broad observations of the six contributing authors are that purpose; cost-benefit ratio; culture, context and capacity; unit of analysis; timing; feedback; and transparency matter to measurement and evaluation. Luis A. Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation, discusses how an organization’s results-focused climate is established and can be used to “define, promote and reinforce a commitment to results” (p. 4). The Ford Foundation’s results-focused culture and guiding principles are guided by long-term investments based on social justice principles. The Omidyar Network (ON), a philanthropic investment firm created by the founder of eBay, uses the output metrics of reach and engagement. “Reach is a measurement of how many individuals are touched by a product or service. Engagement is a measure of the depth of that interaction” (p. 9). Flexibility, feedback, and collaboration contribute to ON’s success with investees. Judith Rodin and Nancy MacPherson of the Rockefeller Foundation, discuss their organization’s approach to rethinking evaluation in the context of developing countries. The authors point to five steps that social impact agencies should take: 1) broaden the inclusion of stakeholders in evaluation; 2) regard evaluative knowledge as a public good and share it widely; 3) address evaluation asymmetries; 4) broaden the objectives of evaluation beyond the individual grant; and 5) invest in the innovation of new methods. The Rockefeller Foundation uses its “Shared Results Framework” to develop a “common vision of the results and impact that they seek to achieve collectively” (p. 14). The Performance Assessment Framework, created by the Irvine Foundation, is used to evaluate performance based on six questions that relate to context, progress towards goals, knowledge, leadership in the field, stakeholder perceptions, and organizational health and effectiveness. Because the framework is organized around topical questions, rather than individual programs, the foundation has been able to approach evaluation with a holistic vision. The Irvine Foundation offers three lessons to performance assessment: traditional philanthropy structures can conflict with a commitment to assessment; assessment requires a culture of reflection and learning that can lead to ongoing program refinement; and assessment requires buy-in and engagement from stakeholders at all levels. Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, authors the fifth article. He discusses the importance of identifying outcomes in understanding impact. The Aspen Institute Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation seeks to maximize the impact of social-sector leaders in contributing to the good society at home and abroad. It hosts the Aspen Philanthropy Group, an agenda-setting body of foundation leaders at the cutting edge of change, and it spurs dialogue among leaders from the private, public, and social sectors in working groups on specific issues of concern.

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